An Uncomfortable Man

I warn you dear reader this post is a little sordid.

The earth is crawling with life. Simply heaving with it. Crawling to microcellular level. Even life is crawling with life. Our very infrastructure is bacteria.

If you get a telescope out and skim the surface of Mars, you would see no life. Remnants of what scientists say might have been, could have been life, but never life itself.

The Mars rover leads a lonely, long existence.

And in this life, we are often lonely. Some of us are. We seek connections with other people.

Some connections are entirely benign, and enrich our lives.

Others, not so.

There is a man at work. A tall man. And he makes me feel vastly uncomfortable.

I noticed it first one day when I was talking to him, and I saw his eyes meander down to my chest. Ok. That was weird. But ok. What made it more uncomfortable was that his eyes stayed there, glancing upwards into my own once or twice, but lingering there.

I brushed that encounter away. After all, it could have been anything. Maybe he didn’t realise what he was doing.

I hugged myself, crossing my arms over my chest.

I was making coffee, downstairs in the business centre news anchor on the flat screen TV hooked up to the wall droning away about something or other. I leafed through the newspaper on the countertop, the coffee machine gurgling as my coffee splattered into my cup. Then there was his voice next to me. So close it made me take a step back and clutch my neck in fright. There he was, standing so close to me I could feel his body heat radiating off him.

‘Alright?’ he said, as though nothing was wrong.

There were some Americans filing into one of the meeting rooms; they had flown over for some big event, and they were part of his agency.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, glancing at them, ‘aren’t you part of the meeting?’ I gestured. So uncomfortable, battling with my distaste.

‘It takes the piss,’ he murmured, ‘but yeah.’

Ok. So go then. And leave me alone.

When I looked at him, I was shocked at how close he was to me.

Then I began to notice it more and more. He was moved to the seat next to mine, and every so often he would lean over, too close for comfort, and whisper something conspiratorial. As though we were in this pessimism towards the company together. Something derogatory about someone or other. Some ridiculous complaint about the weather, because yes, we always talk of the weather, or some moan about the horrible traffic into work. Such normal conversations, so what is the problem?

I tried to be nice. I tried so hard, but I just didn’t want to.

It would have been easy, if I didn’t notice how he looked up every time I stood up. And he would think I couldn’t see but I could feel his eyes on me. And when I looked at him they would snap away, from my chest, from somewhere else.

I began to cross my arms when I stood up, and to scarper as quickly as I could, round the corner. When I saw him walking towards me I would pretend I hadn’t seen him, and turn the other way. Every time he caught me though, he would stand way too close. When he showed me something on my computer, I could feel his breath on my neck.

Once I went downstairs to the receptionist; we have a little repertoire, and I put my hands on the counter and leaned forward. Her eyes met mine.

‘What’s up?’

‘I really hate this man,’ I told her.

Her eyes melted a bit, they cleared as though some clouds shifted to show a sky of understanding within.

‘Go on,’ she said, grimly. And I knew she knew.

When I told her, she immediately understood. I felt validated, somehow, as though I wasn’t just imagining things. She nodded firmly at me, and then when I told her who it was she said she felt the same vibes from him. She told me to request to move desks, which I did. I only moved one seat away but it was much better.

A week later, his agency moved him to another building. I heaved a sigh of relief. I felt free again. I almost danced when I left my desk. The air in the office was cleaner, lighter. I no longer looked over my shoulder.

Another week passed, and I get an email. To my work email. Addressed to me only.

Hi Len!

What lovely weather we’ve been having! I hope you’re enjoying the sun, I certainly am!

Hope you’re doing well!

Cheers,

Name

Now, you might think I am crazy. That’s a perfectly normal email, right? Right?

And he never did anything physically inappropriate, right?

He didn’t touch me. He didn’t say anything. In fact, on the surface of it all, he was always rather nice. His email was rather nice too. So you could say I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

And I do think I might have overreacted in my mind sometimes. I have to email him back, because he is in my company, and as my colleague put it, what say he is moved back, and then he asks why I never replied to any of his emails? His new office is literally four minutes away, I can see it from my window.

But I know how I felt. I know how relieved I was when he left. I know how my guts twisted whenever he came in. I know how close he stood to me, how his hands would accidentally brush me, where his eyes would wander. That was real.

I am not complaining at all. I am just stating the fact. He was an uncomfortable man.

 

 

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She

She was a jellyfish, floating under a wave. Bobbing gently with the ebbing current. Her translucent hair swaying silently around her still face, eyes tightly shut, sealed like death merged with life.

She was the calm in a strong wind. The centre of a storm. The silence as the raging destruction hurled life over a precipice and into the unknown. The deep breath, pregnant with dread.

She was the shadows when you slept, the coat behind the door, the woman silently watching as you tried to coax yourself to sleep. She was there, even though you convinced yourself she was just the dressing gown. Everything looks frightening in the dark.

She was surreal reality, dread behind a closed door. She was the exhibit they ignored, because it made them feel uncomfortable. She was the haunting in Connecticut, the dried eyelids in a box. She was the soft breeze that blew out the candles when the windows were closed. She was the buzzing sound of a wasp when there was none to be seen.

She held her breath for as long as she could, and when she surfaced, life flooded into her in the gasps she took of the air which hummed with oxygen. Her eyes flew open, and reflected the vivid blue stretched over her head. The waves crashed on the distant shore, and her muscles ached with the struggle for life. She kicked, hard, and glanced back. Silhouettes stood on the beach, children’s laughter carried off by the wind.

She was alive, not dead. Death hadn’t captured her yet. The current was far from her curled toes, and she pushed her chest forward with strong strokes of her slender, young arms. Back to the shore.

Back.

To life.

‘Darling, you were away for so long!’, Mam said, as she meandered with long, swaying strides towards the blanket which lay slightly rumpled in the hot sand. She bent over and towelled her hair dry.

‘I was drinking the sea,’ she murmured.

‘Do you want a sarnie? Before Chris eats them all. We’ve got egg mayo and tuna.’

‘I nearly died, mam.’

‘Don’t be silly, we were watching you the entire time.’ her mother said, cheerfully, handing her a sandwich out of a fat orange Sainsbury’s bag next to her foldable beach chair.

She took it, a fat rectangle stuffed with filling and molded like a pillow in saran wrap. She looked at the sea, crashing gently on the shore. Swimmers splashed as the sun beamed down beautifully.

I could have died, if I’d wanted to.